Anymails is a visualization of my received emails.
I have investigated how I can use natural metaphors to visualize my inbox, its structure and attributes. The metaphor of microbes is used. My objective is to offer the user another experience of his email world.
The emails used in the prototype are read from the users local Apple Mail database. The prototype was built with Flash and Processing. Anymails (v012, OS-X 10.4.x universal, + source code) is available for download.
ONE EMAIL = ONE ANIMAL
One animal represents one received email.
ONE CATEGORY = ONE SPECIES
The emails are categorized in six person groups: family and friends, school, job, e-commerce, unclassified, and spam. For example, all emails I have received from my advisors and fellow students are in the category school. These categories are represented by six species, which are different in color and form. For instance, all received emails from school are blue and look a bit like croissants.
STATUS AND AGE OF AN EMAIL = APPEARANCE AND MOTION OF AN ANIMAL
How an animal looks and moves depends on the condition of the represented email. The age of an email (when it was received) is shown by the size and opacity of the animal. For instance, a new email is big and opaque, an old email small and transparent. The status of an email (unread, read, responded) is shown by two animal attributes: the number of hair/feet and velocity. An unread email is hairy and swims fast; a read email has less hair and does not swim so fast anymore; a responded email is hairless and barely moves.
On the opening screen of my interface, all animals are swimming freely. Only animals (emails) of a certain time period are visible at once, such as received emails from today. The user can modify this period in the time line in the menu Time. He can decide if he wants to see emails from today, from the last week or month. The animals represent the following information about the email inbox: The user can see the amount of received emails by the amount of animals. He can see how many emails he has received from which category by the different colored and formed animals. Are there more spam (brown animals) or more emails from family and friends (light green animals)? He can see the status of emails — which animals move fast or slow, which animals are hairy or hairless. For instance, if there are many unread emails from different species (categories), then the screen will be full of different colored and fast swimming hairy animals. If there are only a few responded emails, then only a few barely moving and hairless animals will be visible.
The user can filter emails by species and status. He can fade in or fade out certain species like spam. Or he can make all unread emails visible or invisible. For instance, he can combine these filters to see only emails from school, which are unread.
The user can go back in time to see emails received over the last months or years. He can scroll through the time line to previous inbox conditions. The user can compare different times; he can recognize patterns. When has he received more or less emails? When have more relatives and friends sent emails, when more people from school? When has he responded more or less emails?
ROLLOVER AND GROUPING BEHAVIOR
Selecting one animal, triggers different thing at once. First, a text field appears, containing information about the email (name of sender, etc). In addition, related animals swim next to the chosen one and group in form of a string. The other animals do not group.
The user can define which emails are related. He has the choice between: emails from the same sender, from the same species, with the same status, or from similar delivery time. For instance, the user decides that emails from the same sender are related. When he selects one email, all emails from the same sender swim next to the chosen one and group. Emails from other people do not group.
The user can also decide how the emails are arranged in a string. He is able to sort the emails by status, time, size, person or species. For instance, the user can arrange the emails from the same person inside the string by time. Then newer emails (bigger and opaque) are in the beginning and older emails (smaller and transparent) are at the end of the string.
The user can group emails continuously. In this mode all emails are grouped in the form of strings. As in the rollover mode, the user can define which emails are grouped and how they are arranged in the groups. Depending on which emails should group, the animals form a few longer strings or a lot of shorter strings. For instance, if the user decides to group the emails by status, the animals will form three strings. One contains all responded emails, one all read ones, and one all unread ones. If the user decides to group emails by the same person, the animals will form several strings, each containing emails from one person.